The autocratic mindset of the Bush Administration, from the Decider Guy to the politicization of every single part of the government, is descried by Democrats as anti-democratic, as being unfair, as being illegal, as being un-American.
But the real truth is worse. It’s just bad business.
What is true in business is true in government. The fewer people you listen to, the more you make your organization a cult of personality, the worse its decision-making becomes. The worse its execution becomes. And this cost increases after your autocrat leaves.
To some extent this is inevitable in business. Every great business is entrepreneurial. Every great business has one leader, one vision, one direction, one strategy. Most businesses get in trouble when their entrepreneur leaves. IBM did. Apple did. Microsoft is in the process of doing that. Smart companies, like General Electric, choose new entrepreneurs carefully, and give them time to put their new visions in place. The GE of Reginald Jones was different from that of Jack Welch is different from that of Jeffrey Immelt (right).
But while strong leadership is imperative in business, you also need a great team. You need great people to implement your policies, to market your products, to guarantee customer satisfaction, and to retain good employees. If a business makes all its personnel decisions based exclusively on loyalty to the boss, that business is doomed.
That is precisely what has happened to the U.S. government these last
(nearly) 7 years. Loyalty to the party trumps loyalty to the job, and
loyalty to the President trumps everything. How are you going to get
things done right in that environment? If everyone is afraid to speak
up, if the apparatchiks with no brains are constantly on the look-out
for signs of disloyalty, so they can grab more power for themselves,
your entire structure loses its flexibility, and quickly ages into dust.
That’s what happened to the Soviet Union. That’s what Bush is doing to us.
The terrifying lesson of our time is that everyone, at every level of government, can be subjected
to blackmail, and can be made to shut up. Generals’ pensions can be
threatened. The chairman of the Federal Reserve can be isolated. Congress can be intimidated.
But the cost is high, and it’s not limited to the time an Administration of this type is in office.
That’s the real lesson of this Administration. It’s not the stupidity
of George Bush. It’s not the cupidity of those around him. It’s not
even the scandals, the mind-numbing theft which still continues. It’s
not even the destruction of our constitutional rights.
All of these things have the same aim in mind, an autocratic system in
which the decider guy’s will is law. And all of these things have the
same impact, making us increasingly dependent on one brain. On Bush’s
After this era is over, after Bush and his ilk are pushed out the door,
this government will have to be rebuilt. This system
will have to be re-built . The Constitution will have
to be amended to guarantee this kind of evil never comes back again.
Not just because it’s wrong.
Because it’s stupid. It’s inefficient. It doesn’t deliver. It doesn’t work.
Maybe this was the intent of some ideologues like Grover Norquist.
Don’t just make government small enough to drown in a bathtub. Make it
old and stupid enough so it will fall into the bathtub and drown
After we drown Grover Norquist (figuratively), we’re going to have to
rebuild everything about our system. We’re going to have to flush
hundreds of thousands of sycophants and ideologues out of the system —
many of whom will be insisting on the same civil service protections
they destroyed to get in the door. It’s going to be brutal, it will be
the task of decades, but it has to be done.
And in my next post, I’ll tell you how.